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Andy’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 23 Jul 2006

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Wow i’m far behind. I’m now in Thailand and have written nothing on Malaysia.

Flew into Kula Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. A shock to the system; a real hub of activity. The roads are choked with cars, people and carts; the pavements are non-existent due to the numerous food stalls that are crammed into every space selling fried meats, strange looking dried fish, bubbling soups and of course noodles or rice; the air is a miasma, a mix of food, fumes and the stench of open drains and occassionally open sewers (or is that the smell of Durian, a fruit that the Malaysians have a strange attraction too?). In essence Kuala Lumur is a buzzing metropolis alive with sounds, sights and smells.

I spent ages trying to find my hostel. Three hours spent walking the streets asking passers-by where this small, insignificant hostel was. Of course no one knew, why would they. I had no Lonely Planet so i couldn’t even tell people the road. Well done Andrew. Organisation is your strong point.

Eventually i found the place. Le Village. Inhabiting one of the oldest colonial buildings in KL. Rustic, ageing, peeled paint on the walls, creaky wooden stairs, moth eaten tapestries and paper thin walls. Still it had a certain charm.

After a quick kip i ventured out to look round Chinatown and Little India. Malaysia is a country with a complex but largely coherent multicultural and ethnic make-up, a fact that often escapes those who believe in the facile and vacuous theory of Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis. Malay make up the most numerous ethnicity, then i believe its Han Chinese and lastly Indians. Food, shops, tv and music all reflect the diversity of peoples and cultures in Malaysia., not often equally or fairly, but one is aware of the melting pot. I ate some delicious indian curries on a banana leaf before strolling through the Indian cloth markets and then heading to china town to peruse the fake watches, gucci bags and sunglasses.

The moment i ventured out of my hostel i was pounced upon. I must look like a total plum as scammers buzzed round me like flies are attracted to shit (er - did i just call myself a shit?).

“Hi, where are you from?” i was asked.

“Hello, erm England”

“Oh, where abouts?”

“Grafty Green”

“My sister is going to university there! [Er yeah, uh huh, your sister is going to university in a village that gets excited when someone with a tan walks in the local pub, let alone has a foreign, non-white resident] Come have a drink with me and my daughter” as they grab my arm and lead me to the nearest stall with the daughter trying to look as alluring as possible.

I went with them, got my free can of coke and arranged to meet them in the same place the next day…of course not turning up! (don’t worry mum). I scammed the scammers!

It seems KL and Grafty Green have become twin villages as about ten other people i met also had relatives living there.

Spent a few days in KL. I went up the Petronas Towers which are the tallest twin towers in the world and were the tallest man-made structures in the world until Tapei 101 was built in Taiwan (which apparently is so heavy it has caused increased seismic activity - well done guys, that’s what you want when living in the tallest skyscraper in the world, instability in the surrounding rocks!).

Fantastic views…kind of. Amazing to look down on all the other skyscrapers, roads and buildings, but it was not possible to see very far due to the smog.

My time in KL was also spent visiting the Batu Caves which are located just outside of the city and consist of a series of caves in a rock about the width of uluru and similar in that the rock rises steeply out of flat surroundings. the top is covered in a thick layer of vines and trees which hang down over the many openings and holes. In front of the main cave is a gigantic, gold statue. Very striking in contrast to the grey limestone rocks behind it and the hundreds of steps which lead up to the main cave. What a walk! The heat here is oppressive. It’s awfully humid. There is no point in having a shower as five minutes later sweat is dribbling down your brow again. You can tell who is a local and who is visiting the region simply because those who are not used to the heat walk around with a dazed, vacant expression, a constant frown and have their mouths slightly open as if trying to remember something from years ago. Trust me, its extreme.

The main cave was large with a high ceiling with bright shafts of light penetrating the darkness through gaps in the roof and falling onto little, pastel coloured Hindu shrines dotted in the corners. Lots of monkeys in the cave stealing food and drink from unsuspecting tourists (such as me) and having sex. Detracted somewhat from the air of mystique.

That was KL. My first experience of Malaysia. It seems a country in a hurry to modernise. The last leader and his current successor have decreed that Malaysia should be a fully developed country by 2020 and, arguments about development theory and discourse aside i think it may achieve that. Malaysia is still a country of contrasts, small, traditional villages perched on hillsides in the middle of nowhere, with children running around naked, no sanitation, and the states influence minimal. However, KL (especially) has evidence of a particular Malaysian/Asian modernity around most street corners, the Petronas towers merely being the most obvious and least revealing example. Ideas current in much of Western media that portray muslims as pre-modern, or, at worst, anti-modern should cast their gaze here more often (or Dubai!).


Memorial of the week:
To Harriett the tortoise…the one i spoke of when i visited Brisbane. She died shortly after i saw her. I promise i did nothing - i know thats what you’re all thinking.